6 years, 1 month, and 3 days. Life is about choices; choose wisely.

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Yesterday, I earned the first B of my life. An 89.16 percent, to be exact.

It’s really not a big deal, in the cosmic sense of things, because (a) it was in AP Calculus BC, which is notorious for near-impossibility, (b) I’m a writer, not a mathematician, and (c) it’s my senior year of high school, for crying out loud.

But still, my first reaction was to mentally start packing my bags, retreat to the Himalayas, reject formal schooling and become a female monk. I don’t have tiger parents, in case you’re wondering. That’s just the way I am — a chronic perfectionist, who also happens to be a model minority and also a writer from one of the most underrepresented racial groups in America’s literary scene….

Whenever I write publicly about my experiences, I often delve into issues that are personal — gun violence, racism, femininity — because I know that perspectives like mine are not often shared. The responsibility to speak for my generation is one that requires perfection. Issa Rae’s hit show “Insecure” nails exactly what it’s like to speak as the sole representative for billions of people — frustrating. “You are so articulate!” I’m often told with surprise: a well-meaning compliment from those who have never been underestimated. I’m 18 years old, but mediocrity is not a luxury I can fathom.

Because when you’re a young writer of color, and your success is predicated on your acceptance from the majority, perfection can feel like the only real option. It’s not only that you need to be perfectly articulate, perfectly reasonable —you’ve also got to be twice as likeable. It’s a fine line to tread — you’ve got to be kind of ethnic, like a margarita, but you can’t offend anyone, and you certainly can’t be an angry woman of color. The numbers are stacked against us — only 12 percent of children’s books feature POC, and over 80 percent of publishing staff are white. My path to success is along a percentile-skinny tightrope, so it only follows that I’ve got to be a darn good acrobat….

Last week in my English class, when my best friend and I were discussing a poem by Robert Frost, I felt myself getting irrationally angry. Angry at the fact that Robert Frost could earn a Pulitzer Prize for composing rambling stanzas of sweet nothings about nature, or something basic like that, but as a WOC, I’d have to write about immigration or cultural assimilation or hate crimes in order to be even a blip on the screen.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/perfectionism-woman-of-color_us_5c61a34fe4b0eec79b267aab

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I am sorry for the long absence.  It has been extremely difficult.  Parents are not meant to be apart from their children, especially not a father who, despite being a lawyer with a busy schedule, had attended every single one of his children’s medical appointments (when their mother hadn’t), who had paid out-of-pocket for his children’s weekly appointments with a child therapist for more than a year (when their mother refused to even pay for one hour to debrief with the therapist, claiming she couldn’t afford the payment despite her bank records — obtained during the divorce — showing that she’d spent almost $1,000 in a month on eating out, going to Starbucks, etc.).  People lie in your name and at your expense to advance their causes and cheat you out of a future you deserve.  How is that right?  How is that fair?  How is that just?  But, the world isn’t right.  It isn’t fair.  It isn’t just.  It just is.  We can only endeavor to make our little corner of the world a little more right, a little more fair, and a little more just than when we found it.  My world isn’t right without you; thus, I endeavor to remedy that.  But it is a tough row to hoe.

Enough about me.  Let’s talk about you, Shosh.

Your heart was broken for the first time in preschool, Shosh.  It was your first experienced with rejection.  You’ve always been an extrovert and people have always liked you.  In fact, they liked you so much so that, during preschool, one girl even asked you to marry her. You told us you liked her, but then you came home to tell us you married a different girl during class!

But, this is not that story.  Your first best friend was a boy you met in preschool.  You were buddies.  He was a good boy from a good family and was well-behaved.  (Most of the kids from that program had parents who were doctors or lawyers.)  We liked him as well.

One day, you came home all dejected.  You told us your BFF, without explanation, said he didn’t want to be friends with you any more.  I suspect the pain was caused by both the rejection and the lack of explanation.  You wanted to know why he ended the friendship, but he never told you.  He simply moved on to play with others.  You were crushed.

Not everyone has to like you, Shosh.  I know that’s a hard lesson, but it is one worth absorbing into your bones and the very core of your being.  Not everyone has to like you.

There doesn’t have to be anything sinister about their not liking you.  It may be something as simple as the fact that your tastes are different.  “Birds of a feather flock together,” remember?  Some people may not like the color of your hair — be it red, brown, black, blonde, or green.  They may not like your height — too tall, too short, too average.  Whatever.  The point is they don’t have to like you.

That’s just a fact of life.  Get over it.

Don’t bother wasting energy trying to get everyone to like you.  That’s an impossible task.  You are sure to fail.  So, why bother?

Instead, focus on being you, being the best you.  Celebrate who you are.  Celebrate your accomplishments.  Celebrate those who love you and who share their happiness with you.  Do what is right.  Pursue your passions.  Remember, you are only the boss of you.  Let others be: they are responsible for themselves.  Be it good or evil, they will have to answer for themselves.  Focus on making the right choices for you, and doing the right things.

https://i2.wp.com/bewellplace.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Not-Everyone-Has-To-Like-You.png

Too often, people self-harm by losing sight of what they have while chasing after that which they don’t.  It’s a sad mistake.  Don’t be like them.

Find joy in your lives, my sons.  Be happy.  Celebrate life and all she’s given you.  Strive to be a better person, but never strive to win the affection or admiration of others.

Too often, we Americans treat life as a popularity contest.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others feed on this at our peril.  For example, studies show a strong correlation between social media and depression.  See, e.g., https://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.pn.2017.1b16. 

People spend too much time chasing after meaningless “Likes” on social media — a click of a mouse or a tap of the screen that most people perform without much thought.   Why people allow such meaningless gestures to hold significance in, and over, their lives is beyond me.  People today live for “Likes” from unknown faces and strangers who are often not who they appear to be, who may only be a facade of who they are in real life.  Why?  People don’t have to like you!  If you are lucky, they do.  If not, that’s okay too.  Let them be.  Let them live their lives in peace.  Celebrate them for their achievements, but don’t feel bad if they don’t reciprocate.  Instead, focus on being the best you and on leaving your corner of the world a better place.

All my love, always,

Dad

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6 years, and 4 days. Blood may be thicker than water, but family wounds often cut deepest. Know when to cut your losses and nurse yourself back to health.

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Three months had passed since Grace Gosar and five of her siblings decided they had to do something to stop their brother, a hard-line conservative and staunch defender of President Trump, from winning reelection to Congress.

Their solution back then had been startling: Film a campaign ad for their brother’s opponent.

Grace, a 54-year-old mother of three, was battling ovarian cancer. The disease had taken a steady toll on her body, so much so that when she faced the camera that day and endorsed her brother’s opponent, she worried that the remainder of her life would be measured in months rather than years.

“I couldn’t be quiet any longer, nor should any of us be,” she said in the ad, which cut to another one of her siblings and then another and another and another and another, all imploring voters to cast aside their brother.

The Gosar sibling spots were played and replayed millions of times online this past fall, a symbol to many Americans of the turmoil in their own families and the myriad ways in which their country had never seemed more divided, angry and irreconcilable.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/a-congressman-rails-against-undocumented-immigrants-as-his-estranged-siblings-care-for-them-and-other-patients-in-need/2019/01/12/f486ac0a-1208-11e9-90a8-136fa44b80ba_story.html

 

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

The fall-outs from Suicide Christmas continue to reverberate in our lives.  We try not to let the callous and thoughtless actions of others affect us, but sometimes that is easier said than done.  This is especially true in the case of family.

The most unkind cuts are often inflicted by loved one.  They know us best; thus, their cuts are often calculated to maximize damage.  Unfortunately, too often, their aims are true.

Family often brings out the best in us and the worst in us.  Intra-family battles can be epic, and family dynamics have been the cause of countless therapy hours.  But, familial bonds can also be legendary.

Love them or hate them, they’ll always be family.  So, the best option is to manage family relationships.  No one said you have to constantly subject yourself to tempestuous relationships.

Know your tolerance and separate yourself as necessary to maintain your sanity.  Even before I became a refugee the second time, I lived far from family members and took them in limited doses.  Absence did make heart grow fonder in these circumstances, and the distance enabled me to savor those moments when I did have limited interactions with them.

My point here is to not be a victim.  Yes, family can suck, but no one said you must be with them all the time.  When you reach the age of majority, you are free to move away for college and build a life far from (or close to) them as you see fit.

But, what of the pain family wounds?  Here, too, don’t be a victim.  You are not necessarily defined by your childhood traumas or family scars.  You can choose to move beyond them and define your life for yourself.

Think you’re a prisoner of a troubled childhood? Think again. You need not go through the rest of your life as an emotional cripple. It is possible to bounce back from adversity and go on to live a healthy, fulfilling life. In fact, more people do it than you may think.

Resilience may be an art, the ultimate art of living, but is has recently been subjected to the scrutiny of science. This much is known so far. At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself.

Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs.

Experts argue among themselves about how much of resilience is genetic. People do seem to differ in their inborn ability to handle life’s stresses. But resilience can also be cultivated. It’s possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent. It’s possible to fortify your psyche. It’s possible to develop a sense of mastery.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200305/the-art-resilience?collection=63930

Choose to be resilient.  Focus on self-care if and when necessary, disconnect from the source of your troubles, collect yourself, nurse yourself back to good mental health, then fight on.  Be resilient.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200305/the-art-resilience?collection=63930

All my love, always,

Dad

5 years, 11 months, and 25 days … an eternity. “Suicide Christmas” and three lessons for the new year.

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My Dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

This has been a particularly difficult holiday, and we have taken to calling it our “Suicide Christmas”. No, we will not be “suiciding” ourselves as the Okinawans did during World War II, driven to do so by the Japanese military which spread tales of horrors to be inflicted upon the civilian population by the advancing American army. https://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/20/world/asia/okinawa-suicides-and-japans-army-burying-the-truth.html.  (Do you recall our trip to Okinawa and Uncle H taking us to the spot where many Okinawans jumped to their deaths. There, Shosh, you coined the phrase “they suicided themselves.”)

First, although the thought has crossed our minds numerous times after having lost you, our children, we would never commit suicide for one simple reason: children who lose a parent to suicide are more likely to commit suicide themselves (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/children_who_lose_a_parent_to_suicide_more_likely_to_die_the_same_way.) We would NEVER do anything that would endanger you or put you at greater risks.

Second, we are strong and will not allow racists and evil doers to break us.  Our fate rests in our hands, not theirs.  Let them kill us if they wish and let our blood stain their hands and souls for eternity.  (Sometimes, I wish they would as death would be welcome respite from the pains of life without you, our children.)

OK, that said, let’s leave behind the dark thoughts and focus on the path ahead … the three lessons learned from the miseries of “Suicide Christmas”.

1. People are weak-willed and are more inclined to give in to their insecurities than aspire to their better selves. 

Since my days of selling books door-to-door in Texas following my first year in college, I have held firm the belief that people are inherently good.  Everything I witnessed that summer pointed to the goodness of people … from the guy who saved me from the approaching “Ghostbusters” storm clouds and invited me to join his family for dinner to wait out the storm; to the family who sold/gave me the bicycle their child outgrew in order to help ease my life as an itinerant book seller; to the Josephs and the Luppes who took me into their homes and their hearts that summer; to the countless people who shared their lives with me, who offered me cold drinks after being out in the hot and humid Texas summer, who invited me to refresh myself in their restrooms, who offered treats or a few moments’ respite from the oppressive heat outside when they were unable to purchase my books.  Now, I’m not saying the summer was perfect.  It was far from it.  Selling books door-to-door in the oppressive heat of a Texas summer is a foolish endeavor I wouldn’t wish upon most of my enemies, but it was something I had to do to avoid having to return to the even more oppressive household that your grandmother ran back then.  Further, some members of our small band of college students did experience hardship — as did I — but overall, my summer selling books door-to-door in Texas was a life affirming experience.  People were willing to open their homes and their lives to me, a complete stranger in a strange land. (Yes, Texas is indeed a strange land for our band of college students from the West Coast.)

Throughout most of my adult life, I held dear this belief in the goodness of human nature.  It informed my decisions and animated my actions.  This held true even as I engaged in public service and in the practice of law.  While everyone makes mistakes, I found that most people do try to be good, to be compliant. (Here, I should note two things.  First, I was an advise lawyer for most of my career and mostly helped clients comply with legal requirements.  In other words, clients engaged my services to help them do the right thing and comply with the law.  Second, my positive experience was likely the fortunate by-product of my working for good law firms and/or with good companies.  I chose employers with care and refused to work for sketchy organizations or clients that prey on the weak.)

It was not until my years working for the Enron of Healthcare that I experience first hand true evil — where criminal and fraudulent misconducts were passed off by vice presidents, directors, and other individuals as “business decisions”.  The adage that “management gets the culture it wants” was true with respect to the Enron of Healthcare.  Yet, even then, there were a few good people who were willing to stand up for the sick and the dying, who were willing to do right by the policyholders.  Ultimately, though, as in the Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the bad far outnumbered the good, and I had to report their criminal and fraudulent misconducts to government regulators.  (FYI, government regulators validated my allegations and found numerous additional violations.)  Yet, even then, I clung to my tattered belief in the goodness of people — I happened to find myself in a den of vipers, but, outside of that environment, some good people still existed.

(Here, I should also note that after having been fired for blowing the whistle against the Enron of Healthcare — I was there not as its legal counsel — I became a litigator and fought against those within that industry and fought for the legal rights and medical benefits of those harmed by those corporate evil-doers.  However, even then, even as I fought against specific bad actors and corrupt organizations, I found islands of goodness and held on tentatively to my belief in the general goodness of most people.)

I am now fully disabused of that viewpoint.  Suicide Christmas was the last straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. 

People are weak, and are given to their insecurities.  It is NOT their goodness that most often informs their judgements and animates their actions, but it is their insecurities that do so.

Beware of people’s insecurities.  People will betray you, defame you, cheat you, or otherwise wrong you if required by their insecurities.  (How many times had someone lied about you to avoid looking bad or stupid?  How many times have you done it to others?)  Worse, often, the people will likely feel little to no shame or remorse because their insecurities will help them rationalize their misconducts.  (How many times have you told yourself the person you wronged deserved it?)

I say this not as an indictment of people in general, but as a recognition of reality.  We ARE weak-willed creatures.  Too often, we give in to our insecurities when we could aspire to better.  Remember, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone:” who among us has NEVER lied to save face?

I say this to help you develop better strategies to inform your decision-making process.  People do try to be good, but more often than not, their insecurities will win out; their insecurities will animate their actions despite their better selves.

So, what are your best strategies to deal with this fact?  Whatever they may be, they should include taking time to get to know the stakeholders (i.e., the relevant people) in order to discover what animates each party.  Take time to find out what motivates each person.  You’ll be more successful in your personal and professional endeavors by doing so.  Don’t rush in.

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2.  Trust yourself and few others.

We all have insecurities, and most of us are very good at hiding them.  What are we do to then if most people are driven by motives and insecurities hidden from others?  The answer is self-evident: trust few.  Self-reliance is best.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/e3/3b/63/e33b63e634f17ea96c78a30841b6f356.jpg

Note: I’m not saying trust NO ONE.  No man is an island, and we cannot succeed without the help of others.  In fact, as numerous studies have found, our happiness and sense of well-being is linked to being socially connected.  https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/happiness_is_being_socially_connected.

The point here, again, is to not rush in and to carefully vet others before you open yourselves fully to them.  Treat each according to your assessment of his/her degree of trustworthiness.  Only admit into your inner most sanctum those you deem most trustworthy.  Admit others into your lives only to the degree to which they are deemed trustworthy.  For example, an acquaintance may be worthy of being a tennis partner, but no more, while another may eventually become a business partner or confidant.

The take away here is that when it comes to matters of great import, trust only yourself or your most trusted confidants.  Blood may be thicker than water, but even there, beware.  Not all relatives are trustworthy.  In fact, part of the reasons for the “Suicide Christmas” is that the liars and thieves who stole more than $1,700 from me and who happen to be related to us had the audacity to lie to falsely claim another $1,000, and some people dear to me were stupid enough to believe them.

(This is a good case study of how to assess the validity of another’s statements.  These liars and thieves cousins have repeatedly claimed to be impoverished.  However, their lifestyle belies their words.  A cursory look is all it takes to ascertain their lies.  For example, when we briefly tried to help them five years ago at the behest of your grandmother, a Sony 65-inch 3D LED television sat prominently in their living room.  Next to it was a Sony PlayStation 3 and four two-foot high stacks of Blu-ray discs of games and videos.  These items are worth thousands of dollars, especially back then when the technology was fairly new.  Poor or impoverished people do not have the financial means to waste precious resources on large 3D LED televisions, the latest Sony PlayStation video console, and stacks of Blu-ray discs.  Only idiots would tell, and only idiots would believe, such outrageous lies.

Oh, I should also note that the home of these lying and thieving cousins is filled with crucifixes and other religious symbols, and they regularly attend church service.  They make a show of being good Catholics, but their lifestyle is devoid of Catholic values.  They are such good Catholics, for example, that they even stole from an elderly relative who tried to help them.

Apparently, these facts failed to enter into the calculus of my dear friends who deemed the lying and thieving cousins trustworthy and credible.  Actually, I should state more clearly that it is the insecurities and machinations of these dear ones that animated their actions which ultimately resulted in my betrayal. One friend, because of her nasty disposition and disingenuous lifestyle, is so fearful of dying alone that she purchased the lies of these lying and thieving cousins in hope that they would take her in when she can no longer care for herself.  The other friend harbors of lifetime of fear that no one listens to her and that she is invisible to all; thus, she often inserts herself in matters in which she knows nothing in order to validate her “village elder” persona.

I, on the other hand, trust the lying thieves only as far as I can throw them.  I leave it to karmic justice to give them their just deserts.)

3.  Do your best, and don’t give up.  Forge on: live to fight another day.

As upset as I am that my friends are stupid enough to believe the lies espoused by these thieving cousins and to even attempt to pull me into their evil schemes, it is best to let karma determine their fate.  Their fate is out of my hands.  As Teacher Mary used to say, “You are only the boss of you.”  Do you remember that Shosh?

I can only control what I do — no others.  Thus, it behooves me to make the best of myself and not worry about the actions or characters of others.  Let God judge them.  My place is only to stay away from them and prevent them from hurting me and/or those I love.

In closing, I want you to know that I miss you terribly.  Life sucks without you.  The holidays suck without you.  It has been a miserable Christmas, this “Suicide Christmas”, but we forge on.  This year, I resolve to adhere more closely to these three lessons and hope for a better year.

May 2019 bring you peace.  Study hard. Exercise.  Limit your screen time.  Spend time with loved one, and choose carefully who you spend time with.

Shosh, apply early to colleges.  More kids are applying early, but you still have a better shot at getting into top colleges through the early admission process than through the regular process.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/early-applications-surge-at-prestigious-colleges-so-does-early-heartache/2018/12/28/12479e66-078c-11e9-a3f0-71c95106d96a_story.html.  (Most kids are lazy and/or are so fearful of being rejected that they put off applying.)  You are one of the smartest kids I know.  My staff, in fact, were thankful that they didn’t have to parent such an intelligent child: you scared them.  You pair that intelligence well with your good and kind heart.  Those are your gifts.  Nurture them.  Don’t waste those talents.  I expect great things from you.

Jaialai, you are brilliant in your own way — in an unconventional way.  For example, at two, you knew to say, “It’s not a fish” when I asked you what an aardvark was.  I also expect great things from you.  Know also that you are loved … greatly, significantly, and hopelessly.  Your child therapist said you feared that no one will take care of you, but know that many would happily do so.  Because your brother was a demanding child (as encouraged by your mom who gave into his every whim), your mom paid him more attention while leaving you, the quiet and self-sufficient child, alone.  That was a function of poor parenting on our part: it was not a function of our loving you less.  So, be happy.  Eat.  Play.  Make believe.  Feed your imagination.  Study.  Aspire for better.

All my love, always,

Dad

5 years, 8 months, and 25 days — an eternity. Regardless, remember: character matters

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https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/opinion/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court-vote.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/us/politics/john-paul-stevens-brett-kavanaugh.html

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/03/opinion/kavanaugh-law-professors-letter.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I fear we’ve failed you.  America is an uglier and less civil place today than it was when we were your age.  That is our collective failing.

We failed because many of us have forgotten (or have chosen to ignore the fact that) character matters.  We failed because we have cast aside our humanity and are now too busy praying at the altar of Money, Power, Greed, Entertainment, Adrenaline, Likes and other false gods.

Character matters, my sons.   Don’t forget.  It always has, and it always will.

History will not be kind to those of poor character.  I pray that those who rush to seats of power give pause and think of the legacy they’ll leave behind long after they’ve vacated those seats.  Power is fleeting, whereas our legacies endure.

I’ve often said that intelligence and hard work are the stilts of success.  Many a genius slave away in obscurity, bitterness, and resentment, blaming others for their own failure to work hard to reach their true potentials.  On the flip side, many more work long hours for pittance because nature had denied them the intellectual gift it had bestowed on others or had handed them the misfortune of being born into a poor family, an uneducated family, a family stuck in a war-torn or otherwise impoverished nation, etc.  (There but for the grace of God, go us.)

Character is the third leg that forms a stool upon which your success rests.  The first two traits are all about you.  The third is about how you interact with others, or they you.  No matter your brilliance or industry, if you are nasty, false, or otherwise of low moral character, no one would want to interact with you, support you, or befriend you.  That, ultimately, is why character matters: we are not islands.  We are social creatures and need the support of others.

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Be you, but be the best you, my sons.  We have but one life to live.  There is no dress rehearsal.

We are humans, and we make mistakes.  It’s okay.  But, when you err, own up to it.  Admit it.  Apologize for it.  Learn from it.  Promise to redouble your efforts to avoid repeating it in the future.  Then, move on.

Remember also Fr. Dave’s prescription: before you speak, ask

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it inspiring?
  4. Is it necessary?
  5. Is it kind?

Of these, I think the first and last most important.  Don’t bear false witness and treat others with kindness.  Embrace your humanity.  If you and others remember to do that, I promise our world will be a better place.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., I leave you with this last thought.

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Are you proud of the person you see in the mirror?  Live so that you are.

5 years, 8 months, and 7 days. We are but stewards of our planets and our talents; it is our duty to nurture and not squander each.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Too often, people blind themselves to problems occurring outside their homes and occupy themselves only to what immediately affects their own lives.  They leave the problems at large (e.g., pollution, injustice, fascism, racism, environmental degradation, etc.) to the care of others.  This is known as the “free-ridership problem”.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains the problem as follows:

In many contexts, all of the individual members of a group can benefit from the efforts of each member and all can benefit substantially from collective action. For example, if each of us pollutes less by paying a bit extra for our cars, we all benefit from the reduction of harmful gases in the air we breathe and even in the reduced harm to the ozone layer that protects us against exposure to carcinogenic ultraviolet radiation (although those with fair skin benefit far more from the latter than do those with dark skin). If all of us or some subgroup of us prefer the state of affairs in which we each pay this bit over the state of affairs in which we do not, then the provision of cleaner air is a collective good for us. (If it costs more than it is worth to us, then its provision is not a collective good for us.)

Unfortunately, my polluting less does not matter enough for anyone—especially me—to notice. Therefore, I may not contribute my share toward not fouling the atmosphere. I may be a free rider (or freerider) on the beneficial actions of others. This is a compelling instance of the logic of collective action, an instance of such grave import that we pass laws to regulate the behavior of individuals to force them to pollute less.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/free-rider/

Greater minds than mine have argued the morality of free-ridership, i.e., whether it is immoral for me to sponge off another or whether it is immoral for another to impose their collective will upon me.  Id.  But, I think they miss the point: I have a moral obligation to not waste finite resources.  For example, if I were given a basket of food sufficient to feed 10 people, would it not be morally wrong and morally repugnant of me to pick a few items out of the basket then waste the rest as target practice, especially when there are others who go without food and could have used the food I wasted?  If that’s true and if my moral duty is to keep myself alive and not burden others, then my obligations must include nurturing and making the best use of the finite resources which sustain life and an orderly society.  Whether I do this individually or collectively is a separate matter.

Your maternal grandmother, imperfect as she may be, has done us a great service by teaching us at a young age to care others.  We used to tutor children, help carry groceries for our elderly neighbors, mow their lawns, push cars stuck in ice and snow as we walked to church, translate for schools and churches, etc.  In other words, she taught us to be activists.

Her teaching is in keeping with our faith.  As stated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where I once worked:

16 The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.k

17If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?l

18Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.m

http://usccb.org/bible/1john/3/

Although not religious, I am spiritual and try to live right.  Thus, I have spent years working with refugees (in the U.S. as well as overseas), caring for the homeless (by both creating policies and homeless shelters for them as well as feeding and caring for them during the freeze of winter), helping the poor and the elderly (by building homes and improving the safety net for those in need), protecting children and victims of domestic violence, etc.  I believe we are called to actions not just by our faith, but by our humanity.  For example, how can we blind ourselves to the fact that “40 million people struggle with hunger in the United States, including more than 12 million children” … innocent children like you?  http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/facts.html.

Yet, for my efforts, I have been accused of, and admonished for, harming you, my own children, because I once lost my job and harmed my career by fighting the Enron of Healthcare to stop them from harming the sick and dying, to stop them from denying the insurance coverage and medical care for which policy holders have paid and for which they were then in great need.  My accusers missed the point: by fighting the corrupt insurance company, I protected you and them from the corrupted practices of that particular insurance company and of other insurance companies in general.  (The Enron of Healthcare is one of 10 largest health insurance companies in the U.S., and covers you guys as well as my accusers.)  By taking the fight to insurance regulators and to the court, after failing to stop the illegal practices internally, I exposed those corrupt practices.  Insurance regulators spent a year investigating that insurer.  They corroborated all of my allegations and found numerous other violations.  By publicizing their findings and issuing fines, they gave notice to that insurance carrier and all others that such harmful and corrupt practices would not be tolerated.

We live in a closed system, my sons.  Pollutants and poor environmental policies adversely affecting the South and Midwest affect us in terms of rising food costs and societal costs.  Chemicals dumped into rivers harm our fish, hurt of water system, and poison our oceans … all of which comes back to haunt us.  Our silence when others are bullied is assent and emboldens the bullies.  Can we then complain when the bullies move past their targets to us?

I am always mindful of the lessons of Martin Niemöller.  Speaking about the fascism of the Nazis, he states:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/martin-niemoeller-first-they-came-for-the-socialists.

Live well, my sons.  Live right.  I never promised you that life would be easy, only that you would find life rewarding if you lived well and helped others.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., I leave you with this thought.

https://i1.wp.com/www.thequotepedia.com/images/06/educating-the-mind-without-educating-the-heart-is-no-education-at-all-education-quote.jpg

5 years, 8 months, and 2 days. Embrace the wisdom of our forefathers.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/3a/db/62/3adb62458565e775daf44731fabf2b92.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/img.loigiaihay.com/picture/article/2014/0228/667352191393556026_small.jpg

If immersed in ink, you will be stained dark.  If bathed in light, you will be enlightened. — an ancient Vietnamese saying.

https://www.languageties.com/sites/default/files/images/lexical/007-Birds-of-a-feather-flock-together.jpg

https://i2.wp.com/img.picturequotes.com/2/396/395190/we-think-too-small-like-the-frog-at-the-bottom-of-the-well-he-thinks-the-sky-is-only-as-big-as-the-quote-1.jpg

 

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Dark days lie ahead.  I don’t know how this journey ends.  None of us do.

I want you to know that, in my life, I am guided by the wisdom of the ages.  Fads come and go.  But real knowledge has a way of sticking around.  For example, we still today immerse ourselves in the learnings of the ancient Greeks and Chinese philosophers, who lived thousands of years ago.  Why? It’s because those lessons have been tested in the crucible of time.

Today’s teachings are often lacks depth.  They are devoid of long-term wisdom.

For example, when I did research for my Honors Thesis on “Child Rearing Practices an Prosocial Development” for the Honors Program in Psychology in undergraduate, studies at the time and from earlier times state corporal punishment is one tool in the arsenal of tools parents must use to help raise altruistic and healthy children who will become contributing members of society.  In other words, measured spanking is but ONE tool among many.  It is a necessary tool because consequences and accountability are important parts of life.  Both the carrot and the stick are needed to encourage good behaviours and discourage bad ones.  (See, e.g., https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1655269.html, a court case which states it is not abuse, in the process of preventing their once-good child from joining a gang, for parents to use a wooden spoon to spank a child after trying all other forms of punishment.  Note also how the court took pains to enshrine in writing in footnotes and to make part of the record the lies told by CPS in its efforts to assert its power without any regards for the true interests of the child … that she stay on the good path and not go down the destructive path of gangs and violence.)

These days, the “wisdom” is for parents to not even yell at their kids, much less spank them.  See, e.g., https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/well/family/why-you-should-stop-yelling-at-your-kids.html.

Is that wise?  Does that solve the problem and help raise better and more well-adjusted kids?  No!  With horrible consequences, it only shifted the burden from parents and teachers disciplining kids to school police to do so.  Troubled behaviors that once would have resulted in admonishment in class, detention, conversations with parents, suspension, etc., now results in tazing, physical assaults, arrests, handcuffs, jail time, juvenile criminal records, etc.  See, e.g., https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/school-safety-students-police-abuse_us_5b746a4ce4b0df9b093b8d6a; https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/11/why-do-most-school-cops-have-no-student-training-requirements/414286/; https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/us/police-officers-in-schools.html; https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/police-in-schools-keeping-kids-safe-or-arresting-them-for-no-good-reason/2015/11/08/937ddfd0-816c-11e5-9afb-0c971f713d0c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.006da1640595; http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-aclu-report-20161017-snap-story.html.

 

No, my sons, think for yourselves, but use as guides the wisdom of the ancients.  For example, we are rediscovering the positives benefits of copper in medical treatment, something the ancients used to use before that practice fell out of favor for more modern pharmaceuticals.   https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-bacteria-fighting-super-element-making-a-return-to-hospitals-copper/2015/09/20/19251704-5beb-11e5-8e9e-dce8a2a2a679_story.html?utm_term=.16210f211e7a.

With the above said, let me share that I am guided by three adages, which capture relevant wisdom of the ancients.

(1) All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  This is your world and your community.  You have but one world.  Protect it.  Fight for good and fight against evil.  Be prone to action.  Words are cheap.  Everyday, you see people give lip service to what is good and right, but wouldn’t lift a finger to protect what is good and right.  Don’t be like them.  Be prone to action.  Remember Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech.  It is noteworthy.  Remember, too, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

https://duckduckgrayduck.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/success.jpg?w=656

(2) If immersed in ink, you will be stained dark.  If bathed in light, you will be enlightened.  Surround yourselves with good people, who will inspire you and help you aspire to be better. Work towards continuous incremental improvements, so that you will be better today than you were yesterday and better tomorrow than today.  We need more good people in the world: builders, problem solvers, helpers … those with good hearts and good intentions.  Surround yourselves with good peeps.

On the other hand, stay away from evil because it will drag you down to its level.  Your cousin on your mother’s side ignored the warnings and was caught in a car carrying drugs.  The police charged all the occupants of the vehicle with possession with the intent to sell.  He claimed he was just hanging out with friends and knew nothing of the drugs.  Regardless of the truth, the consequences were dire.  He now has a felony conviction and will forever by marked by that. 

Wrongful convictions are a major problems in the American justice system.  See, e.g., https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2018/09/10/report-wrongful-convictions-have-stolen-at-least-20000-years-from-innocent-defendants/?utm_term=.a643e396962d; https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cost-of-convicting-the-innocent/2015/07/24/260fc3a2-1aae-11e5-93b7-5eddc056ad8a_story.html; http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-texas-judge-20131109-story.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/magazine/she-was-convicted-of-killing-her-mother-prosecutors-withheld-the-evidence-that-would-have-freed-her.html; http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/aboutus/; https://www.innocenceproject.org/.  It’s a reality.  Avoid putting yourselves from that situation if you can.  .

(3) A frog at the bottom of the well thinks the sky is only as big as the mouth of the well.  Learn and expand your horizons.  Read voraciously.  Engage with others, those who are good-hearted and who have good intentions.  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You can learn something from everyone.”

Ignorance begets fear.  Don’t live in ignorance and fear.  Arm yourselves with knowledge.  Reserve judgement and try to see things from the other’s perspective.  Keep an open mind.  Give people a chance, but don’t waste your time on every sob story.  The world has 7.6 billion people.  You don’t have time to meet and measure everyone.  Use heuristics and rules of thumbs to help you more efficiently find the good.  For example, you are more likely to find the good among kids who volunteer to help the homeless, clean up the environment, or feed the hungry than among kids who hangs out at corners, smoking cigarettes or pot, who sneak out in the cover of darkness to tag walls and paint graffiti.  Not all of the kids in the latter group is bad, but your time is better spent interacting with kids in the good group and helping others.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t involve you when I volunteered to feed the hungry; build homes for the poor; help the disabled, the elderly, and the victims of domestic abuse; etc.  I wish I had.  Your mother doesn’t do those things so you have never seen such behavior modeled.  That is my failing. I am sorry.

Be well, my sons.  Learn from life and the wisdom of those who came before us.  Be good.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

5 years and 4 months. Extend yourself, and empathize with others.

https://posterart.com/ourposters/images/exposeyourself.jpg

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Love is a choice.  Choose to love … life, the good people who positively affect your lives, the forests that clean our air, the ocean that provides for and recharges our soul, etc.  Go forth.  Experience life.  Extend yourself.

There are many whose advice is contrary to mine.  Ignore them for their words come from fear.  To them, the world is a dangerous place, where their feelings might get hurt, where they might get hurt, where they might be lead astray, etc.  “Might” is the operative word here.  All things are possible, but few are probable.  Do you lock yourself away from the world and live in a cocoon for fear of something improbable?

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131219-lottery-odds-winning-mega-million-lotto/

Based on the above information, do you not go to the toilet because there is a 1 in 10,000 chance you could get injured by it?  In other words, if you go to the toilet 10,000 times, you may get hurt by it one time.

https://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/brokentoilet.jpg

Do you never step foot into the ocean because there is a 1 in 3.7 million chance that you could get killed by a shark?  Do you avoid going outside for fear of dying from a bee sting … even though the likelihood of that happening is 1 in 6 million?

Bad things CAN happen.  It’s possible.  However, the bad things that most people fear are often unlikely to happen … if they take the usual precautions.  For example, the likelihood of getting hit by lightning is 1 in 3,000.  However, if you are foolish enough to go out during a thunderstorm and stand in a pool of water on an empty field while holding an umbrella or metal club, then you’ve drastically increased your chances of getting hit by lightning.

All of the good stuff happens in the little moments where you just say to yourself, “A “heck with it, I’’m going for it.” When you extend yourself beyond what you thought was possible.

You’ll never see what the Grand Canyon looks like from an eagle’s perspective unless you have the guts to step out onto the Skywalk.

http://www.successful-blog.com/1/extend-yourself/

Everyone searches for success, however it is defined by that individual.  Often, social acceptance (e.g., being famous or popular), social rewards (e.g., making a lot of money), and happiness are components of how most people define success.  Yet, they act contrary to their goal by contracting into themselves instead of extending themselves to others.  You are unlikely to be successful sitting by yourself in a cave.  Your chances for succeeding are better if you go forth into the world and try your best.

Empathy is also a key to success.

This article by Dr. David Tobin, Senior Lecturer in Communication at Rice Business, was originally published as part of the curriculum in his class, Leadership Communication.  

In the business world, the problem with empathy is that too many people don’t understand what it really means and how big a factor it is in successful communication.

Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson sums it up well: “Surveys show that many managers consider empathy a sign of weakness or femininity, not the kind of thing macho businessmen embrace.” Quite simply, these managers are wrong. “Researchers who study leadership and corporate culture are turning up more and more evidence that empathic leaders build better teams, negotiate better deals and produce happier clients” (26 July 2015).

New York Times columnist David Brooks, who was the Rice University commencement speaker in 2011, makes the same point when he describes the rise of the “relational economy.” Computers are doing more and more of the cognitive tasks that used to be accomplished by lawyers and financial analysts–but they fail dismally compared to humans when it comes to handling a position of authority or accountability, or being part of a team. “Empathy becomes a more important workplace skill: the ability to sense what another human being is feeling or thinking” (4 Sept. 2015).

Here’s Tomlinson again: “Empathy is not mollycoddling, and it’s not a synonym for sympathy. It’s not solving someone’s problems for them or feeling pity . . . Empathy is an advanced communication skill that requires . . . understand[ing] the other person’s perspective by identifying his or her problems, needs, feelings, thoughts and values.”

Sound familiar? In Leadership Communication, we call it audience analysis. You know the mantra: “Business communication is goal-oriented and receiver-focused.” The best business communicators try very hard to know what their receivers are thinking, feeling, and worrying about. This knowledge (which, again, is not the same thing as sympathy) shapes how they communicate.

The last word on empathy I’ll leave to a Houston physician. Internist, hospitalist, and essayist, Dr. Ricardo Nuila spoke at a Rice TEDx event about the importance of paying attention to patients’ stories. Inevitably, empathy came up: “Teaching doctors to empathize,” he said, “is modern medicine’s Higgs boson [the elusive “God particle” of subatomic physics] – how do we keep our doctors competent and simultaneously empathetic? . . . This is the essence of empathy: using your brain to extend yourself into someone else’s story” (14 February 2015).

The problem with empathy is the assumption that it’s mostly about flexing your emotional muscles–but it’s not. It’s about using your brain.

https://business.rice.edu/wisdom/commentary/empathy-about-using-your-brain (emphasis added)

 

Empathy is the ability to share another person’s feelings and emotions as if they were your own.

noun

1. 

the projection of one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand the person better; ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings
2. 

the projection of one’s own personality into an object, with the attribution to the object of one’s own emotions, responses, etc.
Sympathy

1. 

sameness of feeling; affinity between persons or of one person for another
2.  Rare

agreement in qualities; harmony; accord
3. 

a mutual liking or understanding arising from sameness of feeling

In other words, empathy is putting yourself into another’s shoes.  If you are to reach your audience and truly understand the person you are speaking to, you must empathize with him/her.  “Seek first to understand,” remember?

All my love, always,

Dad

I leave with one last article

Extend Yourself

snowThe half life of an average new year’s resolutions is about a day or so. Just my guess, since that’s what this type of resolution usually looks like in my mind. “Tomorrow I’ll start to diet.” “Come Monday I’ll plan to go to the gym three times a week.” “I’ll meditate every morning.” “I’ll call one of my old high school friends once a week.” Blahblahblah.

It’s not about planning to get started. It’s about doing it. Right now. There is no time like the present time.

Our self improvement culture is relentless. We all get caught up in those muddled thought loops about what we should do and how to be a better person. It takes up an enormous amount of time and space – energy that could be spent to get up and just engage in whatever you think is good for yourself.

Engaging is not always easy for the Gentle Self. We get self conscious and are plagued by self doubts. It’s very tempting to just withdraw and avoid what makes us uncomfortable. We come up with all kinds of deals that we try to make with ourselves. Ok, I hid away all day behind my desk at work, but tomorrow at the family party, I’ll finally talk to uncle John. I’ll think of something to say, other than the weather…

Never mind that these plans mostly go unrealized, so we feel bad about it, and we come up with a plan how to make up for our failures. And fail again.

Engaging doesn’t have to be scary. It’s just a small piece of life we are looking for, and in order to get it we have to extend ourselves. Stretch yourself a little. Step out of your comfort zone, even if it’s just an inch.

All it takes is turning off your computer, pack yourself in some warm clothes and step outside the house. Breathe in the cold afternoon air. Notice the birds up in the sky. Touch the bark of a tree. Put your hands on your eyes and pay attention to how your senses sharpen. Play with your neglected cat. Meet the gaze of a person in the street, or at the supermarket register. Crack a smile. Make contact with the world.

There are millions of ways to engage, many of them too subtle for our clumsy minds to even recognize them. Extend yourself. Just a little. Again and again. Stop planning. Just do it.

https://blogs.psychcentral.com/gentle-self/2012/01/extend-yourself/ (emphasis added)